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Letters to the Editor

08 February 2019


The Bishops’ transgender guidance and the CEEC’s sexuality book 

From the Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge; the Bishop of Buckingham; the Dean of Wakefield; the Acting Dean of Portsmouth; the Archdeacon of Wigan and West Lancashire; the Prolocutor of the Province of Canterbury; the Revd Dr Jo Kershaw (organiser), and 592 others

Sir, — We write in support of the guidance provided by the House of Bishops to help those wishing to celebrate their gender transition (News, 14 December, 25 January).

We thank the House of Bishops, and all those who were consulted during the process, particularly the Revd Dr Tina Beardsley, the Revd Sarah Jones, and Canon Rachel Mann, for their hard and sensitive work. This was undertaken after the General Synod overwhelmingly voted for a motion affirming the need for churches to welcome and support trans people.

We welcome the fact that trans clergy and laity played a major part in the production of the guidance. Criticism that the Guidance does not present a fully worked out theological anthropology misses the mark: this is not what Synod asked the House of Bishops to do. Doubtless, more could be said, but it is not necessary, nor would it be desirable, to wait for that before making a response to pastoral need.

Although trans and genderqueer people are a small minority, they have always been part of the life of the Church, even though the Church has not always been — and, sadly, still is not always — a welcoming place.

It is right and proper that the Church should make a loving pastoral response to trans people who are looking for a way to recognise and celebrate their transition in church, and surely the use of the affirmation of baptismal vows is a powerful statement of faith that, however our identity may seem to change, or however it might be misunderstood by others, the core identity of a Christian is to belong to Christ, who knows us better than we know ourselves.

We have been saddened by the anxious and at times fear-mongering and ungracious response the guidance has received. At the moment, the trans community is enduring increased criticism and hostility. We are glad that the Church of England has produced this sensitive and helpful guidance, and would be deeply saddened and disappointed if those calling for the House of Bishops to disown it should have their way.

The guidance should be widely welcomed, and we hope that, when the dust settles, it will be. Meanwhile, we rejoice that the Church of England now offers a means to help trans people give thanks for their transition.

c/o 121 Wrenthorpe Road
West Yorkshire WF2 0JS


From the Revd Evan Cockshaw

Sir, — J. K. Rowling introduced us, among other wonderful ideas, to the Mirror of Erised. As Harry Potter stood in front of it, he saw there the image of his deceased parentsm because it shows us the deepest desires of our hearts. Dumbledore warned him that men had gone mad gazing at its false images and wasted away in front of it.

In making the guidance notes regarding use of the baptism liturgy to affirm trans people in their newly chosen identity, are we not in danger of replacing the Cross of Christ, in which we are called to deny ourselves, die to ourselves, and embrace Christ and Christ only, for the Cross of Erised? Perhaps we should also replace our wooden crosses for mirrored ones to more truly represent the spirit of the age.

Is it too late to appoint either Dumbledore or J. K. Rowling to the House of Bishops?

61 Bingham Drive, Staines
Middlesex TW18 1QX


From the Revd Steve Smith

Sir, — I write concerning your item on the book Glorify God in Your Body by Dr Martin Davie and other Evangelical theologians (News, 1 February). I am partly confused and partly horrified by what the book appears to offer.

Regarding marriage: “Parliament and others have declared that there is such a thing as same-sex marriage, . . . something they have no power to do.” Well, Parliament is part of the state authority which Jesus teaches us to obey, and, whether or not any of us believe that it has the power to do so, it has done it.

On the disputed estimate of the numbers of intersex people “Far from representing 1.7% of live births, these true intersex conditions amount to around 0.018%” — the sentiment seems to suggest that, the fewer in number such people are, the less worthy they are of acknowledgement and unconditional inclusion and love.

The book also “quotes with approval” a 2015 podcast by Dr Alastair Roberts which describes the intersex condition as an abnormality or a defect. This hardly sounds to me like the language of grace.

Regarding transgender people, “no doubt gender dysphoria really exists and . . . is extremely distressing for the people who experience it. As people of love we should be proactive in ensuring that transgender people are not subject to harassment or violence or (are) discriminated against. As people of love however readers should encourage transgender people not to engage in cross-dressing or go down the path of gender transition.”

The supreme irony of this last bit says it all. In UK law, harassment is when someone behaves in a way that offends you or makes you feel distressed or intimidated, and may include abusive comments or jokes, etc. Harassment is also a form of discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. Discrimination applies regarding age, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation, disability, gender reassignment, and sex. The sentiments and the theology contained in this book, as illustrated by your thoughtful piece, appear to be not only at odds with the state authority, but are also so scary as to horrify anyone who genuinely aspires to be “a person of love”.

I wonder, was Dr Eeva John, enabling officer for Living in Love and Faith, responding to this book in particular when she said: “It tells us what we are up against”? On balance, I think my civil partner (oops!) put it best when he wondered whether the contents of the book had originally been pinched from the pages of Viz.

The Vicarage, Church Road
Mabe Burnthouse
Cornwall TR10 9HN


Bishop Bayes and the ‘undefended table’ 

From the Revd Dr Ian Paul

Sir, — The Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, sets out his vision for the life of the Church with characteristic passion and eloquence (News and features, 1 February). But he also raises some serious questions about both Christian ministry and the kind of episcopal leadership which we need in these challenging times.

He looks for inspiration to the Episcopal Church in the United States — a Church that is declining and divided, and in which the Presiding Bishop is disciplining another bishop for adhering to historic teaching on the doctrine of marriage. Are there no better examples of growing, orthodox Churches that we can learn from?

He welcomes disagreement — but does he recognise how difficult it is for clergy to disagree with the bishop whose licence they hold? And why should we put energy into disagreeing with our bishops rather than look to them to “teach the doctrine of Christ” as they vowed?

I understand his concern that people take offence when Christians fall short of the example of Jesus. But where is the recognition that Jesus caused offence, and that being faithful to his example will often not lead to acceptance? As Lord Williams noted, the contemporary progressive language of inclusion does not do justice to the challenge of transformation which Jesus held out to all.

In the Gospels, we have only one example of a meal where Jesus was host, and it was in the upper room. Can we find in our bishops a better understanding of the connection between baptism and the eucharist, and one that is faithful to the example and teaching of Jesus? After all, you cannot truly eat if you have not been truly born.

We don’t want our bishops to be silent, and we do want them to be a focus of unity. But that focus needs to be unity around the gospel, and the speaking up cannot simply conform to what is acceptable in wider culture.

Member of the Archbishops’ Council
102 Cator Lane, Chilwell
Nottingham NG9 4BB


From the Revd Barry Miller

Sir, — I welcome Bishop Bayes’s raising the issue of the “undefended table”. One of our very small village churches stands at the entrance gates of an elegant Hall that is a popular venue for wedding receptions. Civil ceremonies can be held there, but many couples marry in the church before a reception at the Hall.

Most couples live some distance away and attend services so as to be eligible to be married in our church. Not all have been baptised, and fewer have been confirmed. The pattern of our worship is that they will frequently attend a eucharist.

Herein lies my dilemma and my disquiet: how to preach God’s unconditional graciousness and love when canon law requires me to say, in effect, “Only those with a special invitation can come to the wedding banquet.”

Address supplied


The Spitalfields case 

From Mr Ian Newton

Sir, — Would that the Court of Arches (News, 1 February) were instead the House of Wisdom. A careful reading of the court judgment shows that, indeed, many mistakes were made along the way of this sorry tale. But, in many pages of carefully argued legal text, there is less than a paragraph about the children involved, who will in due course lose their nursery school and the opportunities it provides, which are well regarded by OFSTED.

Isn’t it sad that the use of a court implies judgment and punishment rather than wisdom in seeking the best way forward for all members of the community, however young they may be? Jesus said: “Let little children come unto me.” There is little sign of that approach in the court’s deliberations. Children get hardly a mention.

Manor Farm Cottage
67 Langham Road
Field Dalling, Holt NR25 7LG


From the Revd Paul Williamson

Sir, — The diocese of London has been landed with immense legal costs. We must have an independent commission to pre-vet substantial cases with such costs, and to prevent an individual judgment’s costing the people of God and the work of the Church great financial loss.

The Spitalfields case looks to have cost every parish in the diocese of London (400) several thousands of pounds each: that is the stipends for curates for many, which could be put to advantage in any parish for pastoral and youth work.

Such a waste of resources is a cause for sadness and anger.
Hanworth Rectory
7 Blakewood Close
Hanworth TW13 7NL


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